Wrestling with Our Angels

December 4, 2020

A few months ago, I authored a column about the duality of humanity and “how contradiction is built into the foundation of who we are and how we function.” Well, this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, highlights this idea in the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel.

We know that Jacob was born as a twin to Esau. He earned his name because of his attempts to “supplant” his brother and come out of their mother’s womb first. He usurps his brother’s birthright by trading him a bowl of soup for the inheritance, and then, as we learned last week, he steals his brother’s blessing by tricking their dying father into thinking he was Esau. Either of these events could question his legitimacy to the path of “patriarch” of the Jewish people. Taken together, they underscore the struggle of humanity that each of us possess on our journey to self-discovery.

Each of our patriarchs and matriarchs highlight specific values, ethics, and human characteristics that overtly demonstrate that we not only possess flaws and idiosyncrasies, but we have potential for incredible greatness. In this week’s story about Jacob, we are reminded of our perpetual internal struggle to wrestle with who we are versus who we believe we are supposed to be.

Jacob has spent his entire life trying to be someone else. He even marries two women (hence our four matriarchs to three patriarchs) — one wife can only satisfy half of his identity. In this portion, he finally wrestles to a resolution, and comes out with the new name, Israel. He discovers his true singular character.

Each of us struggles with our conflict too: between being the person we want to be versus the person we believe we are supposed to be. We continuously wrestle with our instinct and “gut feeling” versus our rational and logical decision-making mind. One is not necessarily more right than the other. It is our constant struggle that limits our ability to be honest with ourselves and to otherwise fully embrace the person we were created to be.

So, too, is the Jewish person’s struggle in the assimilated world. When anti-Semitism rears its ugliness, it is easy for all Jews to embrace their Jewish roots and respond with vigor to the abhorrent acts. Similarly, when Israel as a nation is attacked, Jews from all affiliations and ideologies step up and recognize Israel’s right to exist and support it enthusiastically. Yet, when these same Jews focus on a particular political party in power, whether in Israel or Stateside, we begin to wrestle with our sense of nationalism versus our religion and heritage. This is what we do. We wrestle with our angels. However, as Jacob shows us this week, while we can spend a lifetime wrestling with ourselves, it isn’t until we finally decide to let one side win over the other, where we can finally “own” our identity, that we will be able to show the world who we really are.

The current pandemic has created an unexpected time for many of us to reflect on our lives. Are we where we planned to be? Or are where we wanted to be? What are the characteristics that our loved ones use to describe us? What values, morals, and ethics are conjured up when our names are spoken?

As the Jewish Federation, it is our responsibility to remind us all about the importance of community. In our Jewish tradition, taking care of the needs of the community is a foundational principle. We know that every member of the community wrestles with tzedakkah. We know that it is never a question of should I give, but rather of how much can I give. This year, in a year of the pandemic, social uprising, political partisanship, and numerous other aberrations, we are asking you to please consider an investment into the Jewish community of San Antonio, and in Jews in Israel and around the world who are so less fortunate than ourselves. Please consider making a gift to the 2020 Annual Campaign. Your investment has never been needed more than today!

But also know, that if you are one of the many who are in need of support, additional resources, or community outreach, please contact us immediately, because the Jewish Federation is:


HERE for you.

HERE for our Community.

HERE for our future.


Shabbat shalom,